Garrett, Cowboys must prove they're headed in right direction

PHILADELPHIA -- For the record, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he supports coach Jason Garrett and likes the direction the football team is headed, despite a disappointing two-game losing streak and a 3-5 start to a season that Jones hoped would end with a playoff berth and possibly first Super Bowl appearance since the 1995 season.

Vice president Stephen Jones was offended by the suggestion that Garrett's job might be in jeopardy if the Cowboys don't turn things around over the final eight weeks of the season, starting with today's game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I won't even comment on that, period," Stephen Jones said Thursday. "That's ridiculous."

While Garrett declines to address the rumors regarding his future, the Princeton grad and son of a former football coach and longtime NFL scout has been around the game long enough to know that nothing is guaranteed.

Not in the NFL and certainly not with the elder Jones running things. He has gone through seven coaches since 1989 and even got rid of legends Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson -- the latter after winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

Garrett's predecessor, Wade Phillips, was fired midway through a season after leading the Cowboys to their first and only playoff victory since 1996.

"The nature of the NFL is you have to perform, week in and week out, as players, as coaches, as football teams," Garrett said. "That's our focus."

The focus of Garrett and everyone in the organization is on today's possible watershed game against the Eagles, who are also 3-5 and are also in desperation mode.

No Cowboys team has bounced back from a 3-5 record and made the playoffs. But there is a first time for everything. The San Diego Chargers did it in 2008 and the Denver Broncos did it last year.

Given the Cowboys' soft second-half schedule, which features only one team with a winning record, they are not without hope.

But it needs to start today against the Eagles, or the speculation surrounding Garrett's future will rise to deafening levels.

"Obviously, you want to do it for [Garrett] because he's done it the right way and players love playing for him," tight end Jason Witten said. "But we know it's a bottom-line business, and we've got to go win games."

Garrett is 16-16 since taking over for Wade Phillips midway through the 2010 season and is 4-9 over the past 13 games.

There is no question that the Cowboys like Garrett and think highly of him based on his pedigree and the way he has led the team since taking over.

"I think Jason's done a phenomenal job of having this even approach," quarterback Tony Romo said. "It's easy every week to rewrite the history of the NFL and how great or bad each team is. I think everyone does it. I think as a head coach you need that calming influence that allows you to know you're not, when they say you're terrible you're not down here, when they say you're up here, you're not, you've got stuff to work on."

Stephen Jones said there is concrete evidence that he can point to when talking about liking the direction of the team under Garrett. He points to the Cowboys continually playing hard week after week for him no matter the score.

Public perception

The team's current funk and seemingly lack of progress has caused everything about Garrett's tenure to be scrutinized locally and nationally -- from his game-management to his play-calling to his leadership to his holding players accountable.

The aforementioned Johnson, who coached Garrett on the Cowboys 1993 Super Bowl team, blindsided his former player last week. While attempting to criticize Jerry Jones, he singled out Garrett by saying that there was too much of a country club atmosphere at the team's Valley Ranch training complex and no accountability because they don't fear the coach.

Garrett didn't address Johnson but defended the atmosphere he has fostered at the team's headquarters.

"Different coaches have different styles," Garrett said. "I think anybody who's been around this league at all, as a player or coach, understands the urgency that exists in this league. It's very challenging. It's very competitive. You can call it whatever word you want. When you walk in the doors, you have to feel a sense of urgency ... in the NFL. Certainly we try to create that environment here because we feel like that helps you play your best on Sundays."

"I think we're going in the right direction," Stephen Jones said. "I think there's accountability. I think our players play hard. I think we not only have good football players, I think we have good people. They're playing hard."

Stephen and his father both pointed to Landry and New England Patriots legend Bill Belichick as coaches who struggled early in the careers before winning multiple Super Bowl titles. So there is a case to be made for being patient with Garrett if you believe he is the right man for the job.

"You have to look at his short tenure and potential for the future," Jerry Jones said. "Yes I made a coaching change with a coach who had only been here two years [Chan Gailey]. I regretted it. That was not the thing I should have done. It's one of the few things I would take back as far the coaching thing. Look at Belichick being fired in Cleveland and ends up at New England. The books are full of coaches who started slow and ended up doing an outstanding job. I don't have to remind you of coach Landry's early years."

Grading the talent

The Cowboys are underachieving with a 3-5 record. The Joneses believe they have the talent to win a Super Bowl with Romo, Witten and Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff and Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware in the prime of his career.

The time is now for them to win.

"We have talent," Jerry Jones said last week on his radio show. "We don't have time to have a bad time, not in their careers. We can't have a coach gaining experience. That's the challenge. We have to get to the ground running. We are not doing it right now."

Asked how he will evaluate Garrett, Jones said the Cowboys need to win a game and get some positive momentum going. Jones said he is frustrated with the team's record, but he hasn't given up on a playoff run. He said they need to start winning, starting today against the Eagles.

"We need to win a game," Jerry Jones said. "I looked for an uptick when Jason took over. I look for that now. The arrow going up."

Clarence E. Hill Jr.


Twitter: @clarencehilljr.

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